Yale stuns Princeton with late-game comeback, clinch Ivy League tournament
Following a close Friday night loss at Penn, the Bulldogs rallied from a 19-point second-half deficit to take down rival Princeton.
No moment is too big for Yale guard John Poulakidas ’25.
The Illinois native — who shot a combined 15–25 earlier this season against the Elis only top-100 ranked opponents in Colorado and Kentucky — scored 47 points on over 50 percent shooting from the field during Yale’s two games this weekend.
Poulakidas beats the shot clock from long range.
📺 | https://t.co/xElRUKGP81
🌎 | https://t.co/oemSYNqF04
📊 | https://t.co/sYQwbhvST9#ThisIsYale pic.twitter.com/qwPW5XaKwk
— Yale Men’s Basketball (@YaleMBasketball) February 18, 2023
The Bulldogs (18–7, 8–4 Ivy) fell just short against the University of Pennsylvania (16–11, 8–4 Ivy) in a 66–64 Friday loss, but made up for it with a 19-point comeback victory against Princeton University (17–8, 8–4 Ivy) on Saturday night, winning 93-83 in overtime. Down 63–44 with 7:59 left to play, the Blue and White were on the verge of falling to fourth place in the tightly packed Ivy League standings. However, the win instead launched them into a three-way tie for first place with Penn and Princeton.
“That was one of the most incredible, gutsy, tough wins I can remember,” head coach James Jones said. “With so much on the line, and so much working against our team, our young men were resilient and played with a never say die attitude. It was a brilliant effort.”
The win also meant that The Bulldogs officially clinched a spot to the Ivy League tournament, a four-team playoff tournament whose winner receives an auto-bid to the NCAA tournament. Penn and Princeton have also clinched their spots.
Scheduled to play on back-to-back nights, the Elis’ road trip got off to a bad start when forward Matt Knowling ’24 suffered an injury in the first half against Penn.
Left without their leading scorer, the Bulldogs held multiple two-point leads throughout the second half but struggled to pull away, and found themselves down 62–57 with under three minutes remaining.
The Quakers seemed to be in the clear after star guard Jordan Dingle hit a jump shot to make it 65–61 with 12 seconds remaining. Even then, the Bulldogs did not give up, as Poulakidas knocked down a contested three pointer with five seconds left to give the Elis a fighting chance. Even though Penn’s Clark Slajchert only made one of his two free throws, Yale couldn’t execute on the final play and headed back to the buses with a disappointing 66–64 loss.
But the following day against Princeton, with Knowling absent from the starting lineup for the first time since Jan. 1, the Blue and White looked discombobulated on both sides of the ball, struggling to generate offense as the Tigers made four straight three-pointers to open up a double-digit lead after seven minutes of play.
Freshman forward Danny Wolf ’26 made his presence felt off the bench with a layup and a three on consecutive possessions, and guard Bez Mbeng ’25 had a nice drive to the basket, temporarily pulling Yale to within four at the 11:05 point. But the Tigers continued to respond, clamping down on defense and converting on another open three, forcing Jones to use a timeout.
Out of the timeout, Poulakidas started heating up. The sophomore nailed a pull-up jumper, hit a three on the next possession and then got another tough jumpshot to fall, forcing Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson to burn a timeout of his own. Even after the stoppage, the Bulldogs kept the moment rolling, forcing a turnover that led to a Poulakidas and 1 layup, his 10th straight point. The run brought the score back to 25-24 with 4:36 left in the first half.
The Tigers regained their rhythm, though, ending the first half shooting 75 percent from three-point range and carrying their momentum into the second as well, quickly building a double-digit lead out of the locker room.
Leading the charge for Princeton was reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Tosan Evbuomwan, who finished the game with 22 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
An Evbuomwan layup extended the lead to 19 points with 7:59 remaining, and it seemed like the game might end in a blowout, as the Tigers held a comfortable 63–44 lead.
Then, Princeton went cold. The Bulldogs clamped down on defense and held the Tigers to just four points in the next seven minutes of play, while slowly shooting themselves back into the game.
Forward EJ Jarvis ’23 made a pair of free throws, and Poulakidas hit two more three pointers to make the score 65–54 with 4:48 remaining. With just under four minutes, Mbeng hit another pair of free throws to cut the lead to single digits.
With under a minute remaining, Yale still trailed by five. Then, Jarvis missed a layup, got his own rebound, and made an acrobatic putback layup to cut the lead to three. With under 30 seconds, Poulakidas drove to the basket and finished to make it a one point game.
After trading free throws, the Bulldogs found themselves in a similar position to the prior day’s game against Penn: ten seconds left, down by two. But this time, they converted as Mbeng went coast-to-coast and scored a tough Euro Step layup to tie the game with four seconds left.
Bez to the bucket for the tie!
Yale 70, Princeton 70
We are headed to overtime.
📺 | https://t.co/xElRUKGhit
🌎 | https://t.co/oemSYNq7aw
📊 | https://t.co/sYQwbhvl3B#ThisIsYale pic.twitter.com/B6CpDdLORz
— Yale Men’s Basketball (@YaleMBasketball) February 19, 2023
“Mbeng made a hell of a play,” Henderson said after the game.
The Tigers missed a desperation heave at the regulation buzzer, and the game headed to overtime.
Princeton got the scoring started in the extra period, but it became clear that the Blue and White still had all the momentum. Poulakidas hit a layup on the next possession to tie it, and then buried a pull up three-pointer a minute later to give Yale their first lead since the game’s opening minute. From there, the team never looked back.
Poulakidas finished with a career-high 30 points, the highest scoring performance by a Yale player since Jalen Gabiddon ’22 scored 32 against Penn last February.
“Our confidence comes from the work we put in every single day in practice,” Poulakidas said. “We work on late-game situations all the time. Once we got in that position, we just stuck together as a team.”
The sophomore also led all scorers with 19 points in Yale’s game against Princeton earlier in the season, an 87–65 rout that put the Elis at the top of the Ivy League standings.
Princeton’s late-game collapse — ESPN gave the Tigers a 99.6 percent win probability with seven minutes left to play — is just the latest in a series of tough losses against Yale.
Over the last 11 matchups between the two teams, Yale has won 10 times. Last season, even though the Tigers won the conference and entered the Ivy League tournament as the favorites, Jones’s squad defeated them in the championship game.
This Saturday, the Elis will welcome Cornell to Payne Whitney Gymnasium for senior night. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. and the game will be aired on ESPN+.